Although almost anyone can be targeted by a sociopath, like most people, sociopaths are more apt to spend their energy where they have a higher likelihood of success. Sociopaths test boundaries early in relationships to find individuals, like me, whose boundaries may be weaker and, therefore, easier to violate. Of course, for lots of reasons, once small boundaries have been crossed, it is easier to cross medium boundaries and crossing those makes violating larger ones all the easier.
Trained To Be Nice
It has taken me a painstakingly long time to understand this about myself and to admit the truth of it, but looking back, I can now see that as a child, teenager and young adult, I was encouraged to place the needs of others in front of mine and to place a high value on being nice. Did I understand this about myself? Not really. It was just the air I breathed. It was just the way things were. This drive to be “nice” simply became part of me and created a vulnerability.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale is a metaphor for a being targeted by a sociopath. Clearly, Little Red Riding Hood was trained to be very nice to others, and she had not learned that not all people are deserving of her kindness.
The Original Dialog Went Something Like This
Wolf: Where are you going?
Little Red Riding Hood: I’m going to my grandmother’s.
Wolf: Where does she live?
Little Red Riding Hood: At the first house in the village.
Someone trained to be “nice” like me, like Little Red Riding Hood, and like many of us would answer these questions automatically, without even considering the potentially nefarious motive of the questioner or the risk to themselves of answering. They would do it because perhaps they had been conditioned by their own family that being nice and giving someone else what that person wanted is simply what is expected of them and failing to do so would feel profoundly and uncomfortably wrong. Their own needs and safety would not factor into the equation. It would be painful for them not to answer.
A Better Response
Think about it, there would not have been much to the Little Red Riding Hood story if she had been taught by her family to have stronger personal boundaries. Instead the dialog might have gone something like this.
Wolf: Where are you going? (testing a boundary)
Little Red Riding Hood: That’s my business.
Wolf: So you think you’re too good to talk to a poor lost wolf like me (pity play and “typecasting”—labeling someone in an unflattering way to motivate them to lower a boundary and act in a way to prove this is not true. These are manipulative tactics described by Gavin de Becker in his book The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence. They were among the tactics my ex-husband “Paul” used on me.
Little Red Riding Hood: I don’t want to talk to you.
Wolf: I bet we’ve got to deliver that basket of goodies someplace. Let’s be sure we get it there on time. Which way are we going? (By using the word, we, notice how the wolf is trying to make Little Red Riding Hood think she and the wolf are part of a team. This is a technique used to weaken defenses, because if you really are part of the same team it implies similarity and shared goals, both of which would make someone seem safe.) Paul would often engage me in a “team” project when he felt his hold on me was slipping. Feeling we were working toward shared goals always made me feel more connected to Paul and less likely to entertain my concerns about what was happening to me in the context of our marriage.
Little Red Riding Hood: I’m not going anywhere with you.
Wolf: Your red cap is so beautiful. Did someone make it for you? (Here, the wolf pays a compliment in order for Little Red Riding Hood to feel in the wolf’s debt and do something nice for the wolf in return, like answering the wolf’s questions. Hmmm…what could the wolf possibly really want?)
Little Red Riding Hood: Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you. (Spoken loudly to get the attention of the nearby wood cutters, as Little Red Riding Hood realizes something is amiss and walks in their direction for safety.)
“No” Is Your Friend And Being “Nice” Is Not Mandatory
If you are like me and have been conditioned to be “nice” (having a hard time telling someone “no” is a symptom of being too nice), there are plenty of wolves out there who will use your niceness against you. Even after the horrific experience of being married to a sociopath for almost 20 years and living through profound, post-divorce aftershocks, and chronic post traumatic stress disorder; the need to be “nice” is still way too strong. But, I have gotten a lot better at keeping it in check and making sure that one of the key people I am being nice to by keeping her safe is……me.
My own cautionary tale of unwittingly investing almost twenty years of my life into a relationship with a sociopath and sometimes diverting from the best path, is chronicled in my book Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned (available via Amazon.com, just click on title above). As I don’t get a “do over,” hopefully some of my painful lessons can help others impacted by these toxic people.
Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.